When the Cavaliers drafted Dion Waiters at #4 overall in last year’s draft, a lot of people, myself included, responded by throwing our hands up in disgust and giving up on the Cavs. Well, some eight months later it’s now beginning to look as if the Cavs might have known what they were doing when they surprised everyone by taking Waiters.
Once the dust settled and the Cavs were allowed to express their rationale for the pick things became that much more confusing. They talked about his motor, they talked about his attitude and his toughness. They even had the nerve to compare him to Dwyane Wade and Joe Dumars, two shooting guards who will go down in the annals of NBA history as two of the very best at the shooting guard position.
Looking at their physical make ups it was easy to see where they got the comparison. All three players fall into the 6’3″-6’4″ height and 190-210 lbs weight ranges. All three can knock down a three point shot or take the ball to the hole. All three have the sort of rough and tumble attitude that a team needs in order to take that next step.
That was the set up. That was the line they fed us even as Waiters was showing up to summer league games out of shape and under performing. Things didn’t get any better once the regular season started either. Waiters began the year in better shape, but a poor shot selection and inability to bear down and play the same kind of tough nosed defense that was a staple of Dumars’ game and made Dwyane Wade a perennial all-star were sorely lacking.
It also didn’t help things much that as Waiters struggled to find his way early on this season, the Cavs seemed destined for yet another top 5 lottery pick. It’s a fate that might still be in play, but… Waiters is starting to kill it. In February he played like a man possessed, reborn even. He played so well that he locked up the NBA Rookie of the Month award, an award that seemed destined to be on Bradley Beal’s mantle.
But, how does Waiters stack up against Wade, Dumars, and Irving in their rookie seasons? How does he even compare to Beal, the premier shooting guard taken just one spot ahead of him in the same draft? Well, the results so far are better than any of us probably expected or even realize. Take a look at the table below…
Upon further review, a few things should stand out. For starters, Waiters’ points per game are on par with Wade, Dumars, and Beal. His three point percentage, which has been widely criticized, is better than both Wade or Dumars in their rookie seasons. His overall field goal percentage, hovering around 41%, is atrocious in comparison to his peers, but we’ve seen over the course of the past month that as his shot selection has improved and with it his shooting percentages.
Perhaps the most telling stat, however, is the much adored player efficiency rating. As of right now, Waiters’ efficiency,13.9, is right on par with Beal’s 13.8. He’s also been more efficient in his first 51 games than Joe Dumars was over the course of 82 game rookie season, 12.9. Waiters is still behind Wade’s 17.6 from his rookie season and Kyrie Irving’s 21.4 is in a whole other stratosphere. Keep in mind, Lebron’s PER during his rookie season in 2003-04 was only 18.3. Nowhere near the 25.7 in his second year and little more than half of the 31.5 PER he has posted so far this season.
For those of you confused by that last paragraph, the record for PER in a season is 31.84 set by Wilt Chamberlain in 1962-63. Rounding out the top 5 best seasons ever: Wilt Chamberlain 31.76 (61-62) Michael Jordan 31.67 (87-88) LeBron James 31.67 (08-09) and Wilt Chamberlain 31.64 (63-64). Hell, all ten of the top ten PER seasons of all-time are owned by Chamberlain, Jordan, and James. You can now go about discussing who is the greatest of all-time.
The bottom line here is that Dion Waiters is enjoying a solid rookie campaign. The reason perhaps we’ve all been so hard on the young blood is because we are only one year removed from Kyrie Irving’s phenomenal rookie season and the memory of LeBron James’ rookie impact is still relatively fresh in our minds. How can Waiters possibly compete with that? To expect him to be on the same level as two guys of that caliber almost isn’t fair. You also have to take into account that Waiters is playing alongside Irving. He isn’t running the show on his own. He’s the second option behind an all-star player who is averaging just under 24 points per game in 2013.
The fact that Waiters is showing noticeable improvement is an encouraging sign. He’s learning how to mold himself into an efficient scorer and how to play along side a franchise player in Kyrie Irving. That’s not an easy thing to do.
So please, before you pass judgement on Dion Waiters and the Cavs for selecting him, take everything into account. Properly analyze you preconceived notions of rookie performance, factor in the Kyrie angle and allow Waiters room for growth. In time, who knows, maybe he gets to where we all want and hope he will be.